Put me in front of a film that's one long car chase and endless fight scenes starring actors who grunt much of the time, and odds are you won't be my boyfriend anymore. So why did I not only sit through MAD MAX but cry when it was over? Because George Miller has given us an explosion of cinematic brilliance and storytelling that rips your heart out and returns it to your chest, wildly pumping and shrieking heavy metal ditties until your lungs are forced to sing along. Seriously, I was out of breath the whole time. The movie is a searing finger to just about every convention of template driven filmmaking and storytelling that exists, and it emerges from the mayhem nothing short of artistically ferocious. I won't even hint at what it's about; you probably have an idea and there are plenty of reviews that'll do that, so I'm going to tell you what this movie does. It reminds us that people are manifestly monstrous and magnificent. It advises twenty year old billionaires who are ruling the world to pause and take another look at the men and women who, at fifty, are deemed redundant, irrelevant, and past it. George Miller has not only put us back in the game; he's way ahead of it.
In trying to navigate the outrageously successful risks this movie takes, I get a bit tongue tied. Three acts . . . um . . . character . . . huh? . . . back story . . . er . . . scene set up . . . bluhbluhblerrrr. Yet it's all there, all of it, weirdly packaged and delivered in a series of neuron singeing ironies and paradoxes. I mean, the film is set in a barren, desolate landscape, yet it's one that is so visually arresting it's impossible to believe that places like this actually exist on earth or in someone's imagination. (Let me brag and preen here a bit--I know this place--parts of it are Africa: specifically Cape Town and Namibia). The subject matter is epically bleak, yet the color is ravishing, cinematography so grand it's almost Gothic. Hope is dead, yet so alive it makes your blood pound with the need for the
grunters characters to get even. I imagined Angelina Jolie might rock the role of Imperator Furiosa, but Charlize Theron steps up with her shaven haired, fierce, invulnerable vulnerability, to own the movie. (Preening moment--she comes from the same place I do.) And in this terrifyingly male, misogynistic arena, feminism seethes beneath the surface, informing the movie as much as the driving action.
The action by the way, is as relentless as the engines roaring across the screen in vehicles that are characters in their own right. A few pauses allow you to take a quick breath, but they don't last long and the underlying message is...pay attention, or fall off. You'll miss the shards of back story that dart in like shrapnel throughout the movie; you may not notice the glints of character development that ignite in the tight confines of a war rig's cab--you know, the way sparks flare between stones that are struck together.
Maybe it all works so well because the juxtapositions are so extreme, the images so startling that the occasionally worn premise takes on new life. A bit like the director, and the rest of us who wonder how the hell we're going to keep up once we've past adolescence.
And now I wait for another master's work that I know won't disappoint. Guillermo del Toro and CRIMSON PEAK, why are you taking so long to get here????